Thursday, July 14, 2011
The 2nd KSM Decides to Fight, Part 2
From the diary of Samuel J. Reader:
“The sensations of men in their first battle are doubtless very much the same. All probably experience the nervousness, and involuntary shrinking from the sound of the first few bullets, soon to be followed by comparative indifference, if not of utter disregard. Confidence increases as the battle goes on, until little more fear is felt than during a very violent thunderstorm. A battle is one of those things that seems more terrible in the contemplation, than in the actual participation.”
These sentiments expressed by Sam Reader were probably the representative mindset of the men of the 2nd. Kansas Militia as they listened to the Rebel bugle call. With this final call, the men of Jackman’s Cavalry were ordered to charge the obstinate Union Division and drive them from their position, opening the way for the main body of General Price’s Army. General Jo Shelby was in command of Jackman’s Brigade and it was apparent to him after three quarters of an hour of fighting that there was no support coming to aid the 2nd. Kansas. Now General Shelby and the rest of the Rebel army were desperate to find a defensible place to rest for the night as the Union Cavalry under General Alfred Pleasanton was threatening the rear of the long Rebel wagon train. Colonel Veale and his men presented the final obstacle of the afternoon for the Rebels.
Shelby now told Jackman to clean the field of this unit. While the men of the 2nd. watched this final charge rolling toward them, some of the battle hardness they had so recently acquired wore off and was replaced by many other emotions. Disbelief, awe, and helplessness now played on them as they hurriedly attempted to load their weapons. Captain Bush of Company G later commented it was one of the grandest sights he had ever seen. For many of the men though a hasty glance was all they had seen or wanted to.
The Rebel throng now covered every corner of the field, and after crossing the slight hollow at the base of the hill was approaching the line of the 2nd at a startling rate. The Topeka Battery was now firing as fast as ever but was no match for the Mass of Rebels now advancing on them. Many of the men using rifles had over-estimated the distance of the oncoming enemy and shot over their heads. The first contact made by the Rebels was at the worm fence to the north side of the field and the extreme left of the Union line. It was here the Rebel sharpshooters had been dislodged but now the men of the 2nd were over-run and out-flanked by the charge. The Rebel horses and riders were now among them shooting and slashing with their sabers. The desperate men of the 2nd now sought shelter wherever they could, and many fell back toward the barn. The left side of the line of the 2nd. K.S.M. had now disintegrated, while the rest of the line remained momentarily intact. The Confederate charge now flanked the right side of the Union line with the same effect – the men must flee or be cut down by the marauding Rebels. Some men held their ground and were unhurt after the initial charge only to be killed by other Rebels following the charge on foot. Some men who had stayed close to their horses were able to escape and rode desperately to the west, where they soon overtook the men of the 15th. Kansas Cavalry, whose Commander had already refused to come to the aid of the 2nd. When Colonel Veale and his staff overtook and passed this Division, no pleasantries were exchanged. Still other men from the 2nd. ran as far and as fast as they could, and hid in the brush until they were able to slip away later.
The final Company left before the Rebel charge was the Topeka Battery. This small unit had long been the focal point of the Rebel ferocity because of the barrage of shell and canister it had cast down upon them. The Rebels now drove in upon the little band and many later remarked at their bravery, particularly of their leader, Captain Burns. The men from the battery had all remained – now all that remained to be seen was whether any of them would be left alive.